Tagged: Science Fiction
“Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons….In fact there was only one species on the planet more intelligent than dolphins, and they spent a lot of their time in behavioural research laboratories running round inside wheels and conducting frighteningly elegant and subtle experiments on man. The fact that once again man completely misinterpreted this relationship was entirely according to these creatures’ plans.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
As tempting as it may be to believe the science fiction version of the intelligence rankings, real-life science has spoken and suggests (much to my displeasure) that humans may actually be the highest on the intelligence scale.
Zombies are terrifying creatures. The most panic-inducing aspect of their completely factual existence among us is that they have a taste for human blood and they will do anything to get to it. Recently, the Zombie Research Society (ZRS) has been attempting to scan (with some difficulty due to the fact that zombies aren’t huge fans of staying still in MRIs) and create a map of the zombie brain. A leading researcher in ZRS, Dr. Bradley Voytek, lectured about these terrors at Nerd Night SF. In his presentation he gives a medical term to describe the zombie condition: “consciousness deficit hypoactivity disorder (CDHD)- the loss of rational voluntary and conscious behavior replaced by delusional/impulsive aggression, stimulus-driven attention, and the inability to coordinate motor or linguistic behaviors.” So with those messy scans and some preliminary facts we know about the living dead, researchers such as Dr. Voytek have been able to come up with multiple images of what a real zombie brain must look like. More
Hey Scientists, Where’s My Jetpack?! : The future is here; it just looks a little different than expected
In almost every major futuristic science-fiction work of the last century, jetpacks and flying cars are seemingly as ubiquitous as today’s oversized SUV’s, lining the closets and garages of every hardworking American. Understandably, in the year 2011, this has lead many disenchanted Trekkies and purveyors of assorted geek cultures to ask, “Well, scientists, where’s my jetpack?!” While I commiserate with my fellow fans of Asimov and Adams, several recent innovations have led me to believe that we all might be overlooking just how “futuristic” the time we live in really is. Accessing Google on the iPhone is certainly as close to the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy as we may ever come. We have the ability to beam blueprints of intricate plastic objects and now even organs anywhere in the world and literally print them out. We have computers that can beat us in Jeopardy! And last but not least, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Brain Driver, the thought-controlled car. On behalf of scientists everywhere, I accept your apologies, geeks. More
In the 1984 film The Terminator, an artificial intelligence machine is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to exterminate a woman named Sarah Connor. The Terminator had not only a metal skeleton, but also an external layer of living tissue as well, and was thus deemed a cyborg, a being with both biological and artificial parts. In 1984, no such cyborgs existed in the real world. However, fourteen years later, that would change.
Kevin Warwick is a Professor of Cyberkinetics at the University of Reading in England, and in 1998, he became the world’s first cyborg. Using only local anesthetic, a small silicon chip transponder was implanted into his forearm. The chip had a unique frequency that was able to track him throughout his workplace, and with a clench of his fist, he was able to turn lights on and off, as well as operate doors, heaters, and computers.
To take the experiment to the next level, in 2002 Warwick received another implant. A one hundred electrode array was implanted into the median nerve fibers of Warwick’s left forearm. With this implant, he was able to control electric wheelchairs and a mechanical arm. The neural signals being used to control the arm were detailed enough that the mechanical arm was able to mimic Warwick’s arm perfectly. While traveling to Columbia University in New York, Warwick was even able to control the mechanical arm from overseas and get sensory feedback transmitted from the arm’s fingertips (the electrode array could also be used for stimulation).
Although Warwick’s work could profoundly affect the world of medicine through its potential to aid those who have nervous system damage, his work has been considered quite controversial. After his first implant, Warwick announced that his enhancement made him a cyborg. However, questions are being asked, “when does a cyborg become a robot?” If these types of implants become more common in the future, how would the population feel about these “enhanced” individuals? In the future, it is possible that these implants could be used for anything from carrying a travel Visa to storing our medical records, blood type, and allergies in case of medical emergencies. Warwick is proud of his work because he is pioneering how humans can be integrated with computerized systems, but he has his own concerns as well. In one interview, he claims that it is a realistic possibility that one day, humans will create such intelligent artificial beings that it is possible we won’t be able to turn them off. Will cyberkinetic research ever take us that far? We will just have to wait and see.
For more information of the work of Kevin Warwick, visit his website.
Recent reports of artificial life forms which have “evolved” a basic form of intelligence have caused quite a stir in the biological and computer science communities.
This would normally be the time when I remind everyone that closer scrutiny must be paid to just what is meant by “life”, “evolve” and “intelligence”. But while those are all fascinating philosophical questions, there is no way in which a modest little blog post could begin to cover those topics.
Instead, I’d like to draw attention to a particular aspect of Isaac Asimov’s writing, of which I can’t help being reminded after reading these reports. As the father of the term “robotics” and all things relating to it, Asimov dealt with nearly all of the issues relating to artificial intelligence. A few of his fictional robot characters even developed human-like, self-aware consciousness and creativity. But the one thing which stands out about these characters was that their consciousness was rarely a design of their creators, but rather a fluke. Minute variations in the mechanized construction of their positronic brains amounted to unique, creative minds.
Asimov’s choice to author conscious robots as results of random chance forces us to think about how human consciousness evolved in reality. It may be that such a consciousness is not strictly required for an organism to dramatically enhance its chances of survival and reproduction. We seem to assume that our superior cognitive abilities grant us an enormous advantage over other species, that the sort of consciousness which makes us self-aware, reflective and creative was the “end result” in a very long line of brain development. But evolution does not work towards such a specific end. There are plenty of other species (e.g. viruses) that persist with just as much vigor as us, despite their lack of cognitive powers associated with the forebrain. Perhaps only a minor, random mutation resulted in a dramatic and permanent change in the brain, a change which ultimately amounted to consciousness. Who knows what the odds are that such an intelligence evolved, or will evolve again in a computer simulation? At least we can be reassured that, on a long enough time scale, even the most unlikely event can occur.
In any case, Boston University’s own Isaac Asimov has made many a prediction with his science fiction, and many more can be expected.
“Artificial life forms evolve basic intelligence”-Catherine Brahic